Energy-related carbon emissions hit a record high in 2010, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced Monday.
Global levels climbed to 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), marking a five per cent rise over the previous record high of 29.3 Gt in 2008, despite a dip in 2009 emissions due to the economic recession.
The energy watchdog considers the rise “a serious setback,” given the goal set by OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country leaders last year of limiting the average global temperature to an increase of two degrees Celsius by 2020.
In order to reach that target, carbon dioxide emissions should not exceed 32 Gt annually. Given the rate of increase between 2008 and 2010, however, the 32 Gt limit will be reached within months, reported Al Jazeera.
Chief economist for the IEA Fatih Birol said, “Our latest estimates are another wake-up call. The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the two degree Celsius target is to be attained.”
The IEA also said that 80 per cent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already “locked in” by outputs from existing power plants and those under construction.
Birol added, “Unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed [upon last year].”
The goal was set in 2010 at the UN climate change talks in Cancun by leaders from OECD countries.
Although emissions from OECD countries are up as well, much of the global rise of carbon levels is attributed to the growth of China and India.
As The Economic Times explains, “Region by region, the IEA estimated that 40% of global emissions came from 34-member OECD countries in 2010, while non-OECD emerging economies saw stronger increase in the emission as their economic growth accelerated.”
Per capita, OECD countries have an emission rate of 10 tons per year. China emits more than 5.8 tons per capita, and India now emits 1.5 tons annually per capita.
Forty-four per cent of CO2 emissions worldwide last year originated from coal, 36 per cent came from oil and 20 per cent from natural gas.
Scientists and campaigners warn that unless governments worldwide are able to reduce carbon outputs rather than allow them to continue to rise, the effects of climate change will intensify.
Examples of such effects include the death of most coral worldwide with a one degree Celsius rise in average temperatures. With a two degree rise, coastal flooding will affect 10 million more people.
At a temperature three degrees warmer, deserts will take over parts of the U.S., Australia, and South Africa.
If the world witnesses a four degree rise in average temperatures, ice covering the Arctic will melt completely and sea levels will rise by five meters.
Phil Thornhill of the Campaign Against Climate Change told Al Jazeera, “We should be more than anxious, we should be terrified actually.”
With swift, decisive action by governments, scientists say the world may still be able to avert disaster, but the window of opportunity for consequential action is closing quickly.
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